Hartson proves his pedigree as Hibs harry champions

Celtic 2 - Hibernian 1
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The Independent Football

Not what you need just three days before facing Milan. Celtic emerged from a searching examination by Hibernian yesterday with three precious points but plenty of spent energy.

Not what you need just three days before facing Milan. Celtic emerged from a searching examination by Hibernian yesterday with three precious points but plenty of spent energy.

It took John Hartson's clinical finish seven minutes from the end to put Martin O'Neill's side back at the top of the Scottish Premier League ahead of their Champions' League assignment.

If Hartson - whose two goals took his season's total to 17 - strengthened his claim to a new contract, Hibernian must feel cheated that they had nothing to show for such a bold display.

The focus of attention for the audience at Parkhead was Derek Riordan. The young Hibernian striker - who is the subject of interest from Celtic - had been dropped by Scotland for a representative match in Germany as punishment for his arrest last week in Edinburgh on a charge of breaching the peace.

Riordan almost seized the spotlight in the opening minute when his raking cross was spilled by Magnus Hedman; and the Celtic goalkeeper gave another example of anxiety soon after when he failed to read Jackie McNamara's intention, almost seeing his slow reaction invite Riordan to score.

Hibernian's young side were a credit to their manager, Tony Mowbray, as they played with confidence and fluency in possession. It was very much against the run of play when Celtic broke the deadlock after 18 minutes. Hartson had drawn a foul from Gary Caldwell, and though Aiden McGeady's free-kick was deflected for a corner, the Celtic teenager conjured up a fine delivery to the near post, where Hartson met it with a dive to fire a header into the roof of the net.

Celtic, though, were not given any time to settle on their lead. Steven Whittaker was unfortunate not to equalise just five minutes later with a deft, curling shot that struck the inside of Hedman's post and bounced out. The champions found themselves overrun in midfield right up to half-time.

Henri Camara replaced the injured Stilian Petrov after the break, and the Senegal striker almost profited from a mazy run by McGeady just before the hour, rifling a fierce shot beaten away by the visiting goalkeeper, Simon Brown.

However, when Hedman fumbled again and Stephen Glass hooked the ball just wide of the unguarded net, fear grew among the 58,384 crowd that Hibernian were certain to be rewarded for their spirited and stylish play. That moment finally arrived in the 75th minute, when Caldwell restored parity. Riordan whipped in a corner that Ian Murray flicked on for Caldwell to volley in a left-foot shot at the back post.

Parkhead was stupefied, and the prospect of more points being dropped in the title race was real until McGeady unlocked Hibernian once more with seven minutes left. His tricky run ended with a clever flick to Hartson, who managed to get between Murray and Caldwell and steer a shot beyond Brown.

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